Rodent road a study in vigilance
‘‘Throughout the night – they stalk death on the ‘guinea pig’ highway,’’ was the rather intriguing title given to an article that appeared in New Zealand Free Lance on August 24, 1955.
It had nothing whatsoever to do with small domestic rodents – the article highlighted the lengths taken by the Transport Department to minimise road traffic accidents or, in the unidentified author’s words, ‘‘to stem the rising tide of death and human mutilation on New Zealand’s highways’’.
The ‘‘guinea pig’’ highway was a 115- mile ( 186 kilometre) stretch of rural highway between Porirua and Whanganui, used as an experiment in vigilant patrolling because it contained all the hazards likely to confront motorists and cyclists – long, straight stretches inviting speeding, railway crossings, bends to negotiate, bridges to cross and built up, populated areas to pass through.
One of the most hazardous areas identified was the 5km stretch between Paekakariki and Paraparaumu.
Thankfully the author, who spent a Saturday night patrolling the highway with a senior traffic officer, avoided any real incidents of ‘‘ wild driving’’, though the traffic officer had prepared for the worst.
The accompanying photograph illustrates the huge luminous signs dotting the highway, which gave a clear warning to road users that patrols (if not guinea pigs) were out in force, and would arguably have played a part in moderating some motorists’ behaviour.
Nevertheless, it is a sombre reflection of the fact that, nearly 60 years later, road safety and traffic accidents are still major issues in New Zealand.